Lorazepam Abuse and Addiction Treatment Options
Lorazepam is a benzodiazepine medication often sold under the brand name Ativan. Doctors prescribe lorazepam to treat a broad range of issues, including seizures and anxiety. Mental health professionals may also use the prescription medication to help patients tolerate withdrawal from drugs like cocaine and alcohol.
While lorazepam has several legitimate short-term medical uses, taking it for longer than prescribed can lead to Ativan addiction. Safely detoxing from lorazepam and other benzodiazepines might require medical treatment. Learn more about lorazepam addiction to determine whether you or a loved one needs help with substance abuse.
Do you suspect that you or a loved one needs help overcoming excessive Ativan use? Contact Zinnia Healing for more information about your treatment options. You can reach one of our experts by calling (855) 430-9439.
What Does Lorazepam Do?
Lorazepam and other benzodiazepines interact with GABA neurotransmitters to create feelings of relaxation and calm. Ativan is also a primary treatment for seizures. Emergency rooms should maintain stocks of benzodiazepines because about 2% of ER visits are for seizures.
Surgeons and other doctors can also use lorazepam to keep patients calm during medical procedures. For example, someone undergoing surgery could receive an IV drip that includes Ativan for sedation. Similarly, doctors might prescribe lorazepam to reduce anxiety in patients with medical phobias. For instance, the mild sedation of oral lorazepam could help patients stay still for more accurate MRI results.
FDA-approved uses of lorazepam include treating:
- Status epilepticus (epilepsy)
- Symptoms of anxiety disorders for up to four months
- Anxiety-associated insomnia
The FDA also approves lorazepam as an anesthetic.
Off-label uses not approved by the FDA include treating:
- Alcohol withdrawal syndrome
- Alcohol withdrawal delirium
- Panic disorder
- Anticipatory nausea and vomiting before chemotherapy
- Catatonia (often as a result of mood disorders)
Medical professionals might also use the drug to quickly tranquilize agitated patients, especially when they pose threats to themselves or others.
The usefulness of lorazepam as an anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving medication) also creates a high potential for drug abuse. Imagine that someone asks their doctor to help them cope with recurring panic attacks. The doctor might prescribe Ativan or generic lorazepam prescription drugs to help the patient relax.
If the patient does not also talk to a mental health provider and develop healthy coping strategies, they will likely keep taking lorazepam. Over time, they might even need to take higher doses to achieve the same results. Eventually, they could develop a physical dependence that leads to further benzodiazepine abuse. At this point, the patient might need substance abuse treatment to stop using the drug.
The Dangers of Lorazepam Addiction
Benzodiazepines are frequently preferred over other prescription drugs because they work quickly and don’t cause toxicity when taken as prescribed. Problems develop when someone uses the drugs longer than prescribed, takes high dosages, or mixes them with other substances.
Physical, Mental, and Behavioral Health Effects
Mixing Ativan with opioids, alcohol, and other depressants makes the drug very dangerous. The combination can lead to respiratory failure, coma, and death.
Other dangers of Ativan addiction include:
- Cognitive impairment that can adversely affect school, work, and relationships
- Drowsiness, which can make driving and other activities hazardous
- Increased risk of depression
- Lowered impulse regulation, which can lead to risky behaviors and suicide attempts
Physical impairment, such as poor balance, creates additional opportunities for harm. The risk is highest for older people taking the drug. Poor balance could lead to a fall that causes a broken hip or other bone. This is a bigger problem for older patients than young ones because they heal more slowly and need longer recovery times after surgery.
Doctors prescribe benzodiazepines to patients 65 and over more often than any age group.
When taken in large doses or combined with other drugs, lorazepam can cause:
- Low blood pressure
- Respiratory depression (shallow breathing or difficulty breathing)
- Cardiovascular depression
Overdose can lead to death.
The side effects of Ativan extend beyond those that can damage the brain and body. Ativan withdrawal can cause severe anxiety and other symptoms. Those living with benzo addictions can become desperate to find a drug that eases their cravings. As a result, they might commit crimes that result in legal trouble.
Doctor shopping is a common sign of substance use disorder. It involves trying to get several doctors to write prescriptions for lorazepam and similar drugs such as Xanax and Valium. Many states have laws that make doctor shopping illegal. Misrepresenting a health condition, trying to conceal prescriptions, and similar acts could lead to jail time.
Ativan abuse can also encourage people to purchase prescription drugs on the black market. Lorazepam and most benzodiazepines are Schedule IV drugs that require prescriptions. Buying them on the black market is illegal. Police and other law enforcement agents can arrest people for possessing these drugs without prescriptions. Legal repercussions could include fines and jail time.
If you or a loved one shows the effects of lorazepam abuse, you need to find a treatment center that offers the right level of care. Detoxing from Ativan often requires a personalized plan and supportive medications. Contact Zinnia Healing at (855) 430-9439 to learn more about personalized treatment options that lead to long-term success.
What Are Typical Lorazepam Doses?
Ativan doses differ depending on the health issue doctors want to treat. Typical doses include:
- Anxiety disorder: 2 to 3 mg orally (up to 10 mg daily)
- Insomnia from stress: 0.5 to 2 mg orally at bedtime
- Premedication for anesthesia: up to 4 mg administered by intramuscular (IM) injection
- Epilepsy: up to 4 mg administered by IV
- Alcohol withdrawal syndrome: up to 4 mg per hour as needed (depends heavily on the severity of withdrawal symptoms)
- Alcohol withdrawal delirium: 1 to 4 mg every 5 to 15 minutes via IV
Note that all IM and IV use requires a trained professional. Patients using Ativan to treat other conditions take the drug in pill form.
What Are the Warning Signs of Lorazepam Addiction?
How do you know whether a family member or loved one is struggling with lorazepam addiction? It helps to know some common signs of benzo substance use disorder. You might notice that the person:
- Seems more forgetful than usual
- Misses appointments, meetings, or planned events
- Is preoccupied with lorazepam and similar drugs
- Seems uncoordinated or unstable on their feet
- Takes more risks than usual
- Has a dramatic, unexplainable change in personality
- Avoids social situations
- Is often sleepy or falls asleep at odd and potentially unsafe times
- Asks others if they can borrow, have, or buy benzodiazepines
- Has trouble holding a job or starts missing classes
Treatment Options for Lorazepam Addiction
Lorazepam addiction treatment often requires a multi-pronged approach that addresses physical dependence and underlying mental health issues. After all, many people unintentionally become addicted to the drug because they want relief from the symptoms of anxiety. An effective treatment program needs to consider co-occurring mental health issues and other substance use disorders.
Detoxing From Lorazepam
Patients withdrawing from Ativan can experience severe symptoms. Medical detox makes withdrawal symptoms more tolerable, which improves the chance of long-term sobriety.
Developing a tapering schedule is one of the most important things a treatment center can do. This approach slowly weans the patient off of lorazepam. When the person checks in to the facility, they might receive 75% of their usual dose. Over the next several weeks, the treatment center will lower the dosage until the patient has no physical dependency.
Doctors might also switch the patient to a benzodiazepine with a longer half-life. A longer half-life means that the drug stays in the patient’s system for a longer period of time. Switching from Ativan to Valium could mean the patient needs doses about half as often. In many cases, this aids in helping the patient reach sobriety without experiencing the worst withdrawal symptoms.
Depending on the severity of the addiction, patients might need inpatient care for 15 or more weeks. After leaving the treatment center, patients can use support groups that encourage them to remain sober.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches patients to see connections between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. For example, the thought “I’m going to have a panic attack!” could lead to feeling the symptoms of a panic attack. In response, someone addicted to lorazepam might use the drug to prevent the unwanted symptoms.
CBT disrupts this feedback loop by helping patients confront and question thought distortions. CBT might intervene in the above scenario by encouraging the person to ask, “What would happen if I did have a panic attack? Other than feeling uncomfortable for a while, would anything harmful happen to me?” Intellectually, the person knows that panic attacks rarely lead to serious health consequences. They can use that knowledge to interrupt inaccurate thoughts that stoke unwanted feelings. If they can confront their thoughts and feelings, they might not feel they need to use lorazepam.
Modern approaches to CBT often use mindfulness to help recovering addicts sit and observe uncomfortable emotions. Instead of responding with panic, they can observe with curiosity and compassion.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) also uses mindfulness to treat co-occurring behavioral health issues. In addition to addressing the needs of people living with substance use disorder, it can help patients with mood disorders, suicidal ideation, self-harm, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and personality disorders.
DBT uses four modules to help patients regulate emotions more effectively:
- Mindfulness, which helps people accept and tolerate their feelings
- Distress tolerance, which emphasizes choosing appropriate coping strategies instead of acting from distress
- Emotion regulation, which teaches patients to identify and label emotions so they have better control over their behaviors
- Interpersonal effectiveness, which encourages patients to balance their needs with the needs of others
DBT is often used in conjunction with CBT and other therapies.
Depending on a person’s interests, substance misuse issues, and mental health, they might benefit from therapies that include:
- Yoga and other types of physical exercise
- Adventure therapy, which often involves spending time in nature
- Meditation and mindfulness training
- Animal-assisted therapy (horses, dogs, etc.)
- Art therapy
- Group therapy
- One-on-one psychotherapy
- Nutritional therapy
Many of these therapies are supplemental or supportive options that enhance the effectiveness of detoxing, CBT, and DBT.
Ativan is a commonly misused drug, so you or your loved ones can probably find support groups for long-term sobriety. Consider searching for Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups. Online support groups can also offer support.
Common Questions About Lorazepam Addiction Treatment
Is It Possible to Detox From Lorazepam Without Medical Intervention?
Although it’s possible for people struggling with lorazepam addiction to taper off the drug on their own, medical intervention makes the process more effective and less distressing. The choice to detox at an inpatient treatment center might depend on the severity of the addiction. It’s a good idea to speak with an addiction specialist to make an informed decision.
How Long Does It Take to Become Addicted to Ativan?
Many factors affect how long it takes for someone to get addicted to lorazepam, including dosage amount and frequency. Someone who takes 1 mg of lorazepam daily for a week probably will not become addicted to the prescription drug. However, taking 1 mg for more than a month could cause physical addiction. Similarly, taking larger doses of the drug can shorten the amount of time it takes to become dependent on Ativan.
What Happens When Ativan Addicts Stop Taking the Drug?
Tapering off of lorazepam creates a relatively painless way to stop taking the drug. Quitting abruptly (“cold turkey”) can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, including seizures and even death.
Get Help for Lorazepam Addiction
Addiction to benzodiazepines like lorazepam is often difficult for people to manage. Eventually, the drug will cause mental health, physical, or legal troubles that make life incredibly difficult.
Zinnia Healing can help you detox from lorazepam and get mental health counseling that prepares you for long-term sobriety.
You don’t have to live with addiction. Contact Zinnia Healing at (855) 430-9439 today to start moving toward a healthier life free from addiction.